Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chemo Basics

Nancy had chemotherapy in the 1980s for the recurrence of breast cancer. Back then, chemo treatments were administered in doses greater than they are now, and less was known about preventing side effects. He became very sick and weak during treatment and one of the drugs caused temporarily become color blind. Twenty years later, when I took the chemo, doses were small and pre-medications had to avert the worst side effects. Chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer have improved greatly, and are improving survival rates.

In order to help you understand the basics of how chemotherapy may affect you and your treatment decisions, I looked at what the experts say in UpToDate--a trusted electronic reference that is used by many Oncologists who treat patients with breast cancer.

It may or may not be necessary chemotherapy. But you need to know if chemotherapy will benefit you to increase your chances of survival. Start by reading this excerpt to see why chemotherapy may be important to you.

breast cancer adjuvant chemotherapy and trastuzumab (Herceptin) for the initial phase: chemotherapy, UpToDate

Chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy operates to interfere with the ability of cells (like cancer cells) in rapid growth to divide or multiply. Since most of the normal adult cells are not actively dividing and multiplying, are not affected by chemotherapy. However, bone marrow (where produces blood cells), the hair follicles and the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) all grow. Side effects of chemotherapy drugs are related to the effects on these and other
normal tissues.

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Basics

What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy can be defined as the therapeutic use of chemicals to treat or a disease. Chemotherapy for breast cancer is a systemic treatment that affects most cells in your body. These powerful medications are used to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells to stop their DNA, protein production, prevent cell division, starving them of nutrients or blocking Hormone receptors.

What drugs are used for breast cancer?
Many drugs and regimens fight against breast cancer. Here are some of the combinations of drugs: CMF: Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), methotrexate and 5-FU (5-fluorouracil) BCE: Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cytoxan CAF or FAC:, Adriamycin Cytoxan and 5-FU CEF or FEC: Cytoxan, Ellence (epirubicin) and 5-FU TC: Taxotere (docetaxel) and Cytoxan

I need more drugs to treat my cancer?
Some diagnosis will require the addition of other drugs, to target specific proteins or reduce the flow of blood and nutrients to the tumor. This type of treatment is called biological therapy. These include:

How are the chemotherapy treatments?
Many chemotherapy for breast cancer are reported in fluid form, such as intravenous infusions or injections, but are also available as pills or tablets. Some drugs may be given alone, and other medications are combined to work together. When chemo drugs are given together, the treatment is called a regimen. Intravenous chemotherapy is given in infusions of cycles of 7-21 days. Typically, chemo is given once every three weeks, and you will have time to take action to recover your blood counts and allow the drug to work. Low-dose chemo is given weekly as a smaller dose of drugs will take less time to recover. Oral chemotherapy can be taken daily or as directed. Injections may be given before, during or after an infusion of chemo.

Because chemotherapy causes side effects?
Powerful nature of chemo treatment is its strength and the reason behind its bad reputation regarding side effects. Chemo turns to rapid growth of cells such as cancer. It can also affect your cells naturally rapid growth as blood, mucous tissue in the digestive tract, finger and toenails and hair follicles. These effects will subside after treatment.

How can I Get Help Coping with treatments?
Before each infusion of chemo, receive medications to prevent nausea and vomiting. These can be fun, others can be liquids that are injected into the intravenous drip. After the infusion may need to take anti-nausea, so make sure you get your prescription refilled before treatment. You may also be given anti-allergy medications, or other substances to protect your tissues healthy. Be sure to let your doctor and nurse know which side effects that occur, and as serious as those are. Ask for help managing side effects. In most cases, symptoms may be reduced or prevented.

Chemotherapy affects the present and the future fertility
If you are pre-menopausal before starting treatment, be aware that chemo can be permanent or temporary menopause. Periods may stop, and you may experience menopause medical, which can be temporary or permanent. Chemo drugs specific are known to cause infertility. If you have thoughts about future pregnancies, let your oncologist know before starting treatment. Ask what are the options, if you're planning to add to your family. Depending on your age, pharmacological and dosing, fertility may return after treatment. But if there is a possibility that you'll become sterile, you need to know before your first chemo infusion.

want to know more? See topic of UpToDate, "adjuvant chemotherapy and trastuzumab (Herceptin) for early stage cancer," for more in-depth medical information, current and unbiased on breast cancer, including recommendations of expert physician.


Harold Burstein, MD, PhD. "adjuvant chemotherapy and trastuzumab (Herceptin) for early stage cancer." UpToDate. Access: February 2009.

View the original article here

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